Palestinians to lift Israel import restrictions: minister

The Palestinian West Bank government on Sunday said it was ending restrictions limiting the number of traders who can import Israeli goods into the territory, in a bid to reduce spiralling prices.

"The system of exclusive agencies and exclusive distributors for goods and products manufactured in Israel or foreign goods imported through an Israeli agent is cancelled," economy minister Jawad Naji told a news conference.

"We will allow all interested traders to buy directly from the Israeli market without an intermediary, in compliance with the laws and mechanisms of the Palestinian Authority," he said in Ramallah.

The decision does not include the import of goods made on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Naji said, warning that traders who deal in settlement products would face sanctions.

The move, which could push down the prices of a wide range of products imported from or through Israel and sold in the West Bank, comes as the Palestinian Authority government struggles with public anger of the cost of living.

Naji also said the government would institute set prices for eight essential items -- milk, eggs, meat, chicken, vegetable oil, sugar, rice and bread.

He warned that the government would monitor sales of the goods and punish those selling outside the set price limits.

In recent weeks, Palestinian transportation workers and government employees have staged strikes that at times paralysed West Bank cities, angry at rising costs, particularly of fuel.

In response, prime minister Salam Fayyad announced he would slash VAT and roll back fuel price increases. He has also opened a dialogue with several top unions.

But even as the dialogue continues, the transportation union said Sunday it planned two new protest actions -- a two-hour strike on Monday afternoon and a day-long strike on Wednesday.

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